USA

Banned from YouTube, soldiers get homemade Pentagon version

A year and a half after US soldiers were banned from using YouTube and MySpace, the army has come up with an alternative. Forget the all-singing all-dancing mindless, amusing rubbish - this one's loaded with pep talks and shout-outs. Not convinced? Neither are our Observers, former soldiers in Iraq. Read more...

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A year and a half after US soldiers were banned from using YouTube and MySpace, the army has come up with an alternative. Forget the all-singing all-dancing mindless, amusing rubbish - this one's loaded with pep talks and shout-outs. Not convinced? Neither are our Observers, former soldiers in Iraq.

"TroopTube is the new online video site designed to help military families connect and keep in touch while miles apart." Nothing new... so what was wrong with YouTube and LiveLeak? When they were banned last year, along with several other social network sites, the military blamed it on bandwidth congestion. Now they say it was to prevent soldiers from leaking sensitive information to insurgents. Whatever the reason, the Pentagon was well aware of deployed soldiers' video-streaming needs and desires. In mid-November, they launched their answer to the problem - TroopTube. Take away the music videos and their DIY responses, the self-important rants, the entertaining, the unusual, the downright weird, and there you have it - TroopTube.

The video sharing site does answer the needs of homesick soldiers and left-at-home spouses, but with the content restricted to carefully censored messages of support, it lacks the fun and mindlessness that other video sharing websites offer. And it shows. The highest number of hits reaches only 20,000 - and that's a message from a US Army commander. Despair not for the video-hungry troops though - as one of our Observers tells us, they've had 18 months to scout out their best neighbourhood cybercafés.

"It seems like an unnecessary middle-man to me"

Jami Gibbs started writing her milblog when she was deployed to Iraq in 2005. Today she runs and writes the blog Patriot Missive, which she co-founded.

Considering the highly censored nature of TroopTube, I envision the majority of videos approved for public viewing as "keep in touch" clips. By that I mean videos specifically made for a service member or a family member while they're separated on deployment. Quite frankly, these videos have little value to the general public; there isn't much incentive for other people to "tune in" to TroopTube.

During the 14 months I spent in Iraq, I sent a few videos home in the holidays for my family. It wasn't difficult for me to simply send the video file as an attachment in an email. If you have a webcam and an email address, there isn't much to it. That's why I'm wondering why it's necessary to create a website for that purpose - it seems like an unnecessary middle-man to me. 

The reality is that everything is censored. Would a soldier who has uncensored internet access take time to view TroopTube?  No. Would a soldier deployed to Iraq who only has access to a censored DoD computer use TroopTube? Sure, why not. If anything, only out of sheer boredom.

Emotionally, TroopTube is interesting but not particularly useful like YouTube. TroopTube is simply patriotic, YouTube is resourceful. It'd be unfair to compare the two since they are functioning in two completely different ways."

"A great way for the military to monitor what videos get posted online"

Colby Buzzell served the US Army in Iraq, where he begun writing a "milblog"  (military blog). He has now also written a book about his experiences.

It looks like it's just a lot of feel-good videos of people supporting the troops. I checked out the videos but I got bored very quickly. I do think TroopTube is a great way for the military to monitor what videos get posted online; they don't want videos that paint the military in a bad light (for example that video on YouTube of the soldier throwing a puppy off a cliff) and TroopTube is a way they can monitor what goes online. However, soldiers will always find a way around things."

What you'll find on TroopTube

One of the favourites so far - "Come home fast we love you": a heat-rendering shout-out from a pair of soldiers' wives:

Other videos include a message of support to the troops from General David Petraeus, current commander of US Army Central Command and overseer of Iraq coalition forces, and another message of support, this time from the Chicago White Sox baseball team. It takes 24 hours for the videos to appear online once posted, as they have to be moderated beforehand.